Portraying a Legend
Lombardi: The Only Thing, a biographical play about legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, debuts at Milwaukee's Next Act Theatre on Sept. 11.
Playwright Eric Simonson recently revised the script, which premiered in Madison last year. Next Act worked closely with Simonson to amplify the show's impact, says Lombardi director Edward Morgan.
"There are lots of changes," Morgan says. "But a lot of it is clarity…of the character's point of view."
Simonson's Lombardi ranges from comedic and dramatic to factual and fantastic. Set in a crucial time for the coach, the play is mostly realistic, but it also features an imagined conversation between Lombardi, his father and JFK, among others. In order to make Lombardi clearer to audiences, Morgan says he honed the roles of these imagined characters in a way that illustrates Lombardi's internal crisis prior to the string of championships that would come to define him.
"We've really focused [the play] so that people can really latch onto it," says Producing Artistic Director David Cecsarini, who will take on the role of the NFL coaching legend in this production.
Cecsarini, a seasoned actor of considerable talent, has played well-known types of characters in the past, including an FBI agent, a prison inmate and a Vietnam vet. But this time he'll be portraying an individual who is instantly recognizable to many, which makes the role even more challenging.
"There's a guy, there's a face, there's a style of speaking," Cecsarini says of Lombardi. "There are mannerisms-how he walks and talks."
Though Lombardi's voice and mannerisms from old NFL footage provide a template, Cecsarini says he doesn't feel limited creatively. Cecsarini studied Lombardi closely, and often refers to him as "Vince" in casual conversation. Though he may not be a perfect physical match for a man who stood nearly 6 feet tall and was built like a linebacker, the make-up, costuming and plot should lock everything into place.
"I'm there with the other guys-with Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor-and it's all a tacit agreement that we can be that on the stage," Cecsarini says.
The rest of the cast has also worked to get the characters just right. In preparation for his role as longtime assistant coach Phil Bengston, John Kishline talked with sportscaster Jim Irwin, who covered the Packers during that era.
Next Act's production of Lombardi: The Only Thing runs Sept. 11 through Oct. 12 at the Off-Broadway Theatre.